Micro Topics

Online Survey Ads S*ck

In grade school, did you prefer being the team captain who got to select classmates for your kickball team? Or did you prefer being a student, waiting to be picked?

Most people preferred being the captain. Getting to select who you want based on your own criteria puts you in control.

But when we see ads like this one, and we see many, it feels as if the market researcher is getting picked—not the respondent. People I wouldn’t have picked are picking me—in effect. They are opting into databases that I might end up using for my important survey projects. It is a loss of control.

And it doesn’t feel good.

Enter the term “online survey” in any search engine, and you will get similar ads with catchy titles like, “Make $150 in 1 hour.”

Are people who respond to such ads necessarily “bad” respondents? No. Does the practice hurt perceived credibility of online surveys? Yes.

Online surveys are often treated as guilty, until proven innocent. The onus is on the researcher to assure the client (internal or external) that the research design is sound, the sample source is authentic, the data analysis thorough, and the deliverables error-free. Ads like these taint perceptions of online surveys, by making survey respondents appear guilty of seeking an easy buck.

So, what’s a market research project manager to do?

Chances are good that your clients—internal or external—have seen these ads too, or have other reasons for being cynical about sample quality.

In my experience, the best tactic is a strong preemptive strike. Let the research audience know up front what sample sources you use, how respondents are authenticated and qualified, and what QA steps are taken to identify and remove “bad” respondents. And if doing these things still won’t satisfy them, you need to rethink your methodology options; it’s just not worth spending time and money on an online survey if your audience will never buy into the results.

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Kathryn Korostoff

Kathryn Korostoff is founder and lead instructor at Research Rockstar. Over the past 25 years, she has personally directed more than 600 primary market research projects and published over 100 bylined articles in magazines. She is also a professor at Boston University, where she teaches grad students how to analyze and report quantitative data.

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